Service: Management and leadership 

Topic: Coronavirus 

Remote Vs. Office: How to keep disconnected teams connected

By Howard Woolf

22 Feb 2021

Working from home has challenged team spirit like never before. Almost overnight, workplaces were closed and colleagues who used to be just a few feet from each other found themselves co-ordinating their teams from home.

As we plan for the partial re-opening of offices, hopefully from April, employers need to re-ignite their teams and office culture. Working from home will invariably play an important part in a business’s agility and the work-life balance for its employees. But teams have suffered. 2020 was undoubtedly a gloomy experience for us all. Some may associate that experience with their current job and may look at 2021 as an opportunity for change. It’s therefore vital to plan for getting teams together, with the office as a centrepiece for collaboration and creativity. 

There are many studies across a wide spectrum of organisations which demonstrate the benefits of working in teams, ranging from improved productivity, increased innovation and enhanced service levels. These feed through to financial performance. Such benefits stem from employees being engaged, empowered and strong bonds forged amongst team members.  

In this article, we will discuss the behaviours and characteristics of great teams, and how taking positive action to combine the office and working from home will create an environment that employees will want to be part of. 

Team Behaviour

Cohesion and challenge are the bedrock of successful team behaviour.

Cohesion is vital to maintaining team resilience through difficult times, and is linked to increased levels of commitment, motivation, energy and creativity by members. 

Cohesion can be fostered in many ways, such as by getting to know each member personally, managing the different personalities on your team or by ensuring that there is time for informal conversation around team meetings.

Challenge is the necessary counterbalance to cohesion. It is key to reducing the risk of groupthink (an overriding desire for consensus) and ensuring that every team member feels that their voice is heard. 

Challenge can be encouraged during team discussions by giving each member airtime to raise any concerns and by supporting constructive debate.  

Outstanding Teams

Ruth Wageman’s research highlighted six characteristics shared by outstanding teams exhibiting superior performance – all of which can be applied to the context of your team. 

1. Real Team

Despite sounding obvious, it is vitally important that your team truly operates as a team. Katzenback and Smith define a team as ‘a small group of people with complementary skills, who are committed to a common purpose, performance goals, and approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable’.

To put this into perspective, ask yourself how well your team fits this definition: is it too large or small to function effectively? Are there any skills gaps? Do you have any lone rangers? Is your team stable?

2. Purpose

A team should have a consequential, articulated purpose. It should be challenging, shared by all members and should provide the team with clarity about their role and the unique value which they add to the organisation. Having a strong sense of purpose is also important to maintain team resilience. 

3. The Right People

Ask yourself, who do you want on your team? 

You may not have a name in mind but listing desirable attributes for future team members and looking for current gaps may be a good place to start. Consider different personality types as well as what you see ‘on paper’ – who would be a good fit and who might be a ‘derailer’?

4. Conduct and Norms

Great teams should spend time discussing and agreeing upon their group norms and conduct. 

This could include behavioural and procedural norms (for example, prioritisation of workload or a ‘two-minutes rule’ to discourage interruptions during meetings). Articulating norms can also help new starters to settle into a team, especially when working from home. 

5. Support

Teams should work in an environment which promotes collaboration and is supportive. 

You can create a supportive environment for your team in many ways, for example, by implementing a suitable team rewards system, ensuring that teams have the right information at the right time, providing ongoing training and allowing enough space and time for teams to work on their projects.

6. Team Coaching

Coaching is a powerful tool to bring out the best in your team. It can form a key part of ongoing development and may be particularly useful when your team is ‘stuck’. We will discuss coaching in more depth in our following article next month. 

Teamwork is the dreamwork 

The take home is to actively engage the teams within your organisation to ensure that your talent stays with you and becomes an integral part of the next chapter of your company story. 

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